I live in a no-animal rental building, but my neighbor has cats! What do I do?

Where to turn when an apartment neighbor violates a rule against pets.

Question

I just moved into a large Manhattan apartment building. The building rules specifically prohibit pets of any kind. That was one of the reasons I moved there in the first place, since I’m allergic to almost everything and hate animals. When my neighbor opened his door the other week, I saw three cats in there! What can I do?

Answer

Life would surely be simpler if everyone could follow the rules. But alas, not everyone does. Your neighbor is apparently in violation of the building regulations. Many co-ops and condos in New York (and other large cities) explicitly ban pets. Some ban only specific kinds of pets, like cats and dogs, but allow less disruptive pets like fish. Many rental agreements and sublets can also prevent a tenant from having a pet in the apartment he or she is renting, even if the building itself allows pets.

First, double-check the rules to make sure that you’re correct about the building prohibiting cats. If your neighbor is indeed violating the terms of the building rules, you have essentially two choices: you can confront him, or you can go straight to the building management.

Even if you have a strong relationship with your neighbor, the second option might be better in this circumstance. While you normally might seek to negotiate with a neighbor before bringing in a third-party, here there is little to negotiate: he wants to keep the pets, you want them removed, given your allergies.

People are often very defensive about their pets. Asking him to give away his cats will surely result in a hostile relationship, even if he is in violation of the building rules. Keep in mind that you’ll see your neighbor constantly – in the laundry room, in the elevator, and in the local grocery store. You might to best to try to avoid this awkwardness.

If you bring your concern to the building management, either in a letter or by calling its central office, the management might be able to intercede without using your name. In your communications, you should emphasize your serious allergies. This will make it clear to the building management that it cannot ignore the complaint.

If management does nothing, you might consider hiring an attorney to write a letter to their central office. An attorney demand letter can have an enormous effect in generating action. Your attorney will be able to point out to the management that, in most cases, they have a legal responsibility to enforce the building rules or condo/coop agreement.

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